Seek First His Kingdom and His Righteousness

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The Lord will restore the remnant

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23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 31:7-9


I was on FB the other day and scrolling down, go figure, I saw a political post.  I don’t even remember what it was about, but I did the thing that they say you’re not supposed to do, and I read the comments.  Friends of mine, and family members all making generally the same comment, “Well, this is just the dumbing down of society!”

You’ve heard that before I’m sure.  The dumbing down of society.  As I started to think about that statement, it suddenly struck me as a bit odd.  I thought, when was the last time that the collective hive mind of our society wasn’t dumb?  Was there ever a time when people didn’t make that comment?  When was the last time our society, generally speaking, did something good or intelligent?  Not in my 32 years of life on this earth it hasn’t.

Well, Christian friends, let me comfort you with this – as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun and not much has really changed in the last 3000 years – When the prophet Jeremiah wrote the words of his Book.  That’s why Jeremiah wrote.  He wrote to God’s people.  He wrote to warn them, to encourage them, to remind them that despite the worries and cares and problems with the world around them – Their Lord, THE Lord will restore his church, he will restore the Remnant of believers – he will gather them, and he will lead them!


See Jeremiah’s ministry spanned about 50 years.  And in that 50 years there were some high points and some extremely low points.  He was called during the reign of the good, if not great king Josiah.  Josiah had wiped out pagan Baal worship almost completely from his country.  But after he died, a series of evil kings ruled over Judah.  From an outward perspective – Israel was prosperous! I guess you could even say, society was pretty good!


Part I: He will gather

Now along comes Jeremiah.  And for much of his prophecy, much of his book he is either warning or condemning Israel for it’s sins.  He was talking about how they would be dragged off, put into captivity by a foreign nation.  The mighty walls of Jerusalem wouldn’t hold back the forces of their enemies.  The casual observer might think, “What are you talking about man?”  We aren’t doing half bad for themselves!  Why are we supposed to cry out, “Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.”  Save us from what??  Here we are!  Israel gathered together, and sure there’s whispers of war between Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt – but what of it?

Their faith was in themselves.  It was in their own political savvy, it was in their worship of fertility gods and gods of war. in their own mighty walls that surrounded their city.  That was their mighty fortress, not their God.  It was these things that they sang with joy about, they thought themselves the “foremost of the nations.”

In these Words of the text for today, Jeremiah reminds them of their REAL purpose as the nation of Israel.  “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’

The “foremost of the nations” that Jeremiah is talking about here is not Israel, but the LORD.  The Lord of the nations.  And it was him they were supposed to sing about, they were supposed to praise him, and proclaim his name and all he had done for his people – but they forgot that purpose.  They forgot that it’s God, the Lord of the nations, the God of all promises made and kept – It’s he who gathers, protects, and saves his people.


Now, as Christians in America, I think we often are tempted in the same way as the Ancient People of God.  What’s easier to talk to someone about – Politics or Religion?

We spend a good deal of time worrying and fretting about who will be in office.  We often wonder and worry about global affairs – Oh is Russia arming up again?  Is China militarizing?  Is Europe as a whole even capable of defending it self?  Will we be dragged into another war somewhere??? Isn’t it easier to proclaim a political point of view, worry about the “dumbing down of society” or taught the laurels of a political candidate than it is to speak to someone about the faith you have in Christ?

Are we, the CHURCH, called to form a Godly nation with mighty walls around it?  Is it our job on earth to create a morally upright society?  No.  Friends, society and the world around us changes, it’s politics shift and move like sand.  Nations rise against nation and peoples succeed and fail.

Like Jeremiah, we have a God who is the Lord of the nations.  Nothing happens on this earth that is beyond his watchful eye.  It and His Word does not change, it does not fail, it tells you of a kingdom that will never fall.  It tells you how God himself has gathered you.  How he has put a hedge, a mighty fortress around you.  It’s a kingdom created not by the strength of arms or crafty politicking.  It’s a kingdom created by the Lord who can save.  The only one who can save his people, who has by the blood of Jesus saved you and me.  And it’s our purpose and privilege to Sing, Proclaim, Praise his Holy Name.  This is how God gathers and protects his people – by the proclamation of his Word.  It’s songs of praise and shouts of Joy that gather all the people of God – those from distant lands, cultures, peoples and nations.  This is how God gathers his people – by his Word!

See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.

Part II: He will lead them

How do the blind and the lame travel great distances?  How does a pregnant woman, or one who is about to give birth hop on a horse or a camel or jump in a wagon and traverse a great expanse.  It’s virtually impossible for that to happen! Unless of course they have an excellent leader!

See, this is the reality of the situation that Israel was in!  They were blind, lame and vulnerable as expectant mothers, or mothers of young children. And many of them didn’t know it.  God, through the prophet Jeremiah reminds his people that he is and always has been their leader.

Jeremiah writes, “They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble”

Through weeping, and prayer and confessing their sins and repenting they would come back.  And what a comfort and promise that God gives to his people here!  It was a comfort to those living in the days of Jeremiah, those that felt helpless at the terrifying political climate.  Those who were scared to death of war an exile to a far-off place.  This was also a comfort to those who many, many years later – would be returning from that exile in Babylon.  That their God would lead them, that he wouldn’t let his people fall, he would keep his promises to them.  Despite the fact they were blind, lame, pregnant – he would help them, lead them care for them and restore the remnant to their rightful home!


We have this promise too.  That the Lord will restore the remnant of his church.  That he will lead us on.  But often times that is a difficult thing to see.  We see the degradation of Christianity in America and we shudder.  We see people leaving the church and we worry.  We see changing attitudes in our nation with regard to religion in general and wonder about the certainty of our own future.

In preparing for the sermon for today, I ran across a quote from a Lutheran pastor living in Nazi Germany during WWII.  Talk about a time of uncertainty, and worry about the church, or religion period! A time not all together different than the one Jeremiah carried out his ministry in.  This pastor’s name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the difficult time in which he lived gave him a unique insight into how Christ our Lord gathers, leads, builds and restores the remnant. He said:

It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess—he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him—that he may build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

Christ gathers, Christ leads, Christ leads us on the straight and even path, along the streams of water of his Word.


Relatively speaking, the Church has always been small, hard pressed and troubled.  It exists in a sinful world, with “dumb” societies, or scary societies.  Like Jeremiah, like the true believers of Ancient Israel, our job isn’t to fix those things – our mission is to sing, proclaim, cry for joy because of what our God has done!  He will preserve his church, he will restore the remnant – so that it is even greater than it was before!  He will gather us and he will lead us to his holy mountain, Amen.

Father, Glorify Your Name!

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5th Sunday in Lent
John 12:20-33

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, are you someone who is focused and determined or are you someone who is easily distracted? In order to win and achieve athletes need a high degree of focus and determination, right? The musical artist or instrumentalist needs focus and determination in order to perform at a high level, right? The doctor who performs open heart surgery needs a high degree of focus and determination, at least we would hope so, right? What about you? Do you have a high degree of focus and determination in life? It seems to happen every year when you live in northern Minnesota that as spring comes and the temperatures start to warm up a bit and it get easier and more pleasant to go outside, it becomes more and more difficult to focus on the tasks before you. It’s also about this time of year when it becomes extremely difficult for seniors in high school or college to continue their studies, they begin what’s been called a “senior slide” as they dream about college or entering the work force.

And, of course, that’s one thing when it comes to our day-to-day lives, but it’s another thing when it comes to our focus and determination to live as Christians in a sinful, broken, and wicked world. Do you have such focus and determination?

The time when our text took place happened during Holy Week. This is perhaps a day or two after Palm Sunday. It’s just a matter of days before the Passover celebration in Jerusalem and the city is bustling with hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, people who have come to celebrate the Passover. Some of the people who came were from a Greek nationality. They also had come to worship God. You see, there were people from all different nationalities who had been brought to faith in the true God of the Bible, they were believers, but as Gentiles, they were not allowed to go into any and every part of the temple, there were places they could go and no further. So they come and want to see Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was in a part of the temple they weren’t allowed to go into or perhaps they were a little apprehensive to talk to Jesus. Remember that Jesus’ popularity is 2nd to none at this time for his teaching and miracles, so perhaps these Greeks felt they needed an introduction to talk with Jesus.

Philip takes this request to Andrew, then the two of them go to Jesus. But Jesus takes the occasion to teach us about what he is about to do. It almost doesn’t follow, right? I mean, what happened with these Greek people? Did Jesus talk to them? We don’t know. But that does teach us something about the Bible. God gives us everything that we need to know, but not necessarily everything that we want to know. I’d like to know what happened, but God knew we didn’t need to know, rather, God wants us to focus on what Jesus said after this request.

Their request led Jesus to say that the time had come for him to be glorified. Glorified? When you think of glory, what comes to mind? A wonderful miracle? A triumphant procession? Thousands of people cheering and chanting, like at an NCAA basketball game? That’s glory, right? Not for Jesus. His glory is found not in thousands of people shouting his name, but crowds of people shouting, “Crucify, crucify.” Jesus’ glory is found in His death. Like a seed, He must be placed into the ground and die. But just like once a seed is placed into the ground it produces hundreds of more seeds, so it is with Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for sins once for all so that all who believe in Him, all who find Jesus more important than anything else, all who follow Him and serve Him, all those have eternal life. Jesus tells us that a full, abundant life is not found in chasing after the hopes and dreams and pleasures and treasures of this world, but the only way an abundant life is found is in knowing Him as your Savior and having eternal life in Him.

And as Jesus considers his impending excruciating death on the cross, He’s troubled. Of course, no one wants to die. Death is the consequence of sin. The wages of sin is death. But Jesus is different. Jesus never sinned. In himself Jesus has no reason to die, he could walk right into God’s glory without going through death. So, “What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” He’s come to glorify the Father, He’s come to do exactly what the Father wants him to do: to lay His life down and die, to save helpless, lost sinners with his death. He wants to do it. And God the Father responds, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Jesus came to crush the serpent’s head. The devil is the prince of the world who has been trying to usurp God’s power from the fall into sin. But as the devil works to instigate Judas to betray Jesus, the Jewish leaders to sentence him to death, the Romans to carry out crucifixion, thinking that he’s destroying Jesus, by that very act God was going to overthrow the devil and cleanse the world of sin. Now, every soul that’s brought to faith in Jesus is another loss for Satan and he’s losing more and more as the Gospel continues to spread.

And here is Jesus’ focus, here is Jesus’ glory: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” That’s his focus, that’s His glory, to die on the cross, to give his life up as payment for your sin. See His focus? See His determination?

How easy it is for us to lose our focus, to lose our determination, and I’m not just talking about when the weather gets nice and we think about being outside. We fill ourselves with worry or fear or anxiety over petty problems. We get frustrated when things to happen the way that we planned or the way that we wanted. We focus our attention on the betterment of our own lives, we see people not as people we can serve, but as people who can serve us and better our lives. This happens when we lose our focus, when we focus on ourselves, our lives, our glory. And what happens? We miss out. We miss the work of God in our lives, we have little for which we are thankful, we miss opportunities to show Christ-like love to others.

But notice where Jesus’ focus is. It wasn’t on Himself. It wasn’t what was best for him. Should he say, “Father, save me from this hour? Let me not have to do this for these pathetic, helpless sinners?” No. It was His glory. What is Jesus’ glory? To finally be rid of us once for all? To not have to deal with our petty little problems and annoying sinful habits and ridiculous arguments? To be done with us? Is that Jesus’ glory? No. Rather, Jesus finds His ultimate glory in selfless love laying down His life and dying on the cross. Why? Because it was there where he took upon Himself every sin- every sin you have ever committed from the least to the greatest, He took it upon Himself. For what purpose? So that we might not get what we deserve, but rather get God’s grace, salvation, eternal life in heaven.

And what does that message do? First, it gives us rest. We rest in the unconditional love of our God. We have peace with Him. And second, it transforms our lives. Our lives follow Jesus. We, too, lay down our lives, we die to our wants, our desires, for God’s wants and for the good of others.

I heard a really neat story this last week. There was a man who was a Christian who was taking undergraduate classes at a secular college and was in a sociology class and would often stand up for God’s Word and what God’s Word teaches. A woman in that class talked with him and said, “I’m not a Christian, but I commend you for standing up for what you believe.” They talked remained acquaintances she understood the gospel message but couldn’t believe it. What Father would give up His own Son for other people? And he explained that God wanted the Son to die and the Son wanted to do it so we would have God’s unconditional love. Well, one day she came up to that Christian man and said, “I think I’m starting to get it.” And she explained how that morning on her way into classes there was a torrential rain and her car hydroplaned and went into the ditch and got stuck in the mud. She ran to the nearest house and knocked on the door and a woman in her 60s came to the door, invited her in, called her husband who left work with his pickup truck and pulled her car out, that couple fed her breakfast, took care of her, and talked about their Christian faith. And this woman just couldn’t believe that they refused to accept anything, she couldn’t pay them anything. And she said, “I’m starting to understand.” You see what that couple did? They died. They died to their morning schedule. He died to his work. All in order to help this lady. And what happened? It was another wave to erode the hardened exterior of this lady against Jesus. She got to see Jesus through their actions.

And isn’t that just how God works? He doesn’t order or demand or command people into His kingdom. Rather, He draws us, He wants to win people’s hearts through the drawing power of His love and His grace so clearly seen at the cross. Our God knows no boundaries, no limits, no bounds in order to save us. Jesus saw His glory in laying down His live so that we might be His forever. And what could be better for us than to occupy our thoughts, our focus than seeing in other people, souls for whom our Savior found it glorious to go to the cross and save? And it’s there where our hearts are transformed and we lose our focus on self-interest and self-seeking ways and focus instead on self-sacrifice, living our lives and giving ourselves so that we, too, may glorify God’s name and more and more may see Jesus. Amen.

To Depart in Peace

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1st Sunday after Christmas
Luke 2:25-40

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those one whom God’s favor rests! In the name of Jesus, our newborn Savior, dear friends in Christ, are you making any New Year’s Resolutions for 2018? Newsweek recently published an article of 15 top ideas to help you in setting goals for 2018, here they are: eat more fish, make meaningful connections, take a warm bath, go to bed early, volunteer, make your own meals, give up soda, hit the gym, don’t eat after 9 pm, pick up a book, eat salad once a week, spend more time outside, get a coloring book, use social media less, and save for the future. A new year presents us with the opportunity to not only reflect on the past year, but to look forward into the next year. So, are you setting any goals or making any resolutions for 2018? Almost every popular list of resolutions people have for a new year are exclusively to do with a person’s outward life. But, as Christians, we know that there is something much more satisfying, much more rewarding, much more lasting than making some outward changes to our lives. Are there any inward or spiritual resolutions that you will be making this coming year?

We obviously don’t know what lies ahead in 2018. Will there be a sudden change to our lives? Will we face some major expense? Will there be some big thing that will happen on the world scale? Will we have some major health issue? Will a close loved one pass away? Will this be the year that we pass away? While we don’t know what will happen in 2018, wouldn’t it be nice to have to peace of Simeon and the joy of Anna? Well, the good news is that because of God’s resolution about us we can have the same peace and the same joy.

Joseph and Mary have taken the baby Jesus to the temple. And while they are there a man named Simeon came up to them. We’re told that Simeon was righteous and devout. The word “righteous” indicates that he was a true believer in the promised Savior. Through faith in the coming Savior God credited him with the righteousness that Jesus came to win. He was also “devout.” That indicates that his faith was evident in his life. He wasn’t just a “religious” person, he honestly lived to serve God giving thanks for the salvation that God had come to win for him.

There was something special about Simeon. It had been revealed to Him by God the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. On one particular day, moved by the Holy Spirit, he entered the temple courts and went up to Joseph and Mary and took the baby Jesus into his arms and praised God with the words of what has come to be called the “Nunc Dimittis” which is Latin for the first words in Latin, “Now you depart.” “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Now, we often assume that Simeon was a very old man and what he is saying here is that he can now die because he has seen Jesus. But we’re not told that specifically. It could be. But that’s not really the focus of his song of praise. For many centuries the Christian church has placed this song of Simeon right after people have received the Lord’s Supper. And that’s a very fitting place. The word translated “dismiss” has the basic meaning of “set free” or “release.” It could be used to set a prisoner free or to a slave being given freedom from his master. Simeon was set free from this intense yearning and waiting to see the Savior from this special promise that the Holy Spirit had given him. Now with the child Jesus in his arms he has seen the salvation that God brought into the world and that spoke peace to his heart.

The same is true for us.  Every time we receive the Lord’s Supper we are receiving in a miraculous way the very same body and blood of this Christ-child, the same body and blood that was nailed to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And what is our response to that? We may go in peace knowing that our sins, personally, have been forgiven. We have seen our salvation.

Joseph and Mary marveled at what Simeon said about their little child. But then he turned to Mary and said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The purpose of a sign is to tell or reveal something. Jesus has come to reveal God’s grace and salvation for all people. The purpose is fulfilled when people believe and receive Jesus as their Savior. They rise from sin, guilt, death and hell to life, faith, becoming children of God, and heirs of eternal salvation. But he will also cause the falling of many. There are only two reactions to Jesus. He is really the great divider in all humanity. Either you believe in him or you don’t believe in him. Unfortunately many don’t believe in him, many reject him, many don’t want Jesus to be their Savior. Because of their rejection many will face the ultimate falling- spiritual death now and eternal death hereafter. And a sword will pierce Mary’s soul too. Did she remember this as she stood at the foot of the cross watching her son go through inhuman, unbelievable, excruciating pain suffering an eternity of hells for whole mass of all humanity?

Then we hear about Anna who was very old and came up to them gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Can you picture this elderly woman excitedly going up to people telling them about the Christ-child who was born to be their Savior?

Do you have that? Do you have the peace of Simeon? Do you have the joy of Anna?

Here we are on the eve of another new year. Tonight, we will bring 2017 to a close and usher in 2018. We reflect on the joys, challenges, difficulties, struggles, experiences of 2017. We look forward to a new year. What will 2018 bring? We don’t know what lies ahead. We can make our plans, we can make our resolutions, we can anticipate, but in the end, we don’t know what the future will bring. And not knowing can lead us to fear, can lead us to worry, can lead us to anxiousness.

So, how do we have the peace of Simeon and the joy of Anna? How can we, too, say with Simeon, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace”? How can we? Because our eyes, too, have also seen our salvation. Simeon never saw Jesus perform a miracle. Simeon never heard Jesus preach a sermon. Simeon never saw the cross or the empty tomb. But Simeon saw through the eyes of faith that this child was God’s answer. This child came in order to make all things right. This child came to undo what sin had broken. This child came in order to crush the serpent’s head. This child came to win the forgiveness of sins. And knowing that, Simeon could depart in peace. He knew that God had fulfilled His promise to send the deliverer, the rescuer, the redeemer, who would take care of everything that made death terrible. He knew that the punishment for his sin was upon the Messiah and that by the Messiah’s wounds he was healed. He knew that though his sin was as scarlet, because of this Christ-child they would be as white as snow. He knew that death was now the entrance to life eternal. What did he have? Peace.

And you do too. No, we don’t know what lies ahead. We make our plans, but we don’t know how or if they will succeed. We often are left with many questions in this life that is so affected by sin. But through the eyes of faith, we too, have seen our salvation. This baby, this Christ-child, came in order to provide the ultimate answer. He came in order to make us right with God, forgiving our sins and winning eternal life for us. Knowing that we have such a God who would go to such lengths in order to save us really makes our whole lives one long joyful Christmas celebration in which the best present of all will be opened last of all when at last the Lord allows us to depart in peace. Amen.


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11th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8:35-39

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what a “deathtrap” is? Now that word can be used in any number of situations, but perhaps the most familiar we are with such a concept is in either movies or books. A “deathtrap” as I understand it, is a literary plot device that puts a good character or hero or actor that you sympathize with into a very dangerous and lethal situation. You know, it’s the scene where the person is walking blindly into a very precarious situation. You as the viewer see all the dangers and threats and schemes that the enemy has put into place to trap the unsuspecting hero or heroine. Such a plot device builds tension and creates anticipation and makes you almost want to yell at the screen, “Don’t do it! Go back! They’re going to get you!” It fills you with fear as you sympathize with the character or anger as you think, “Don’t be so dumb! Can’t you see what’s going to happen??” It’s a device used both in all kinds of literature and movies for both children and adults. A deathtrap.

But have you considered the fact that, in a way, we’re all living in such a “deathtrap”? There’s so much that we can’t see about our own lives. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, we don’t know horrible accident is going to happen to us or one of our loved ones, we don’t know what illness or disease or sickness is waiting for us, we don’t know what’s going to happen with nuclear bombs or threats of war, are we like the character in the movie walking around in the midst of danger? But, far worse, is the fact that we can’t see what Satan and all of his demons have planned for us. Every day they are planning and scheming and devising deathtraps not just for our bodies but for our souls! The devil wants nothing less than to rip us away from God, to get us to doubt God, to weaken in our faith, and finally to no longer believe, that’s his goal. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Lord’s Supper, said this, “Now, what is the devil? Nothing else than what the Scriptures call him: a liar and murderer. A liar who entices the heart away from God’s Word and blinds it, making you unable to feel your need or to come to Christ. A murderer who begrudges you every hour of your life. If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as you can. The only reason we go about so securely and heedlessly is that we neither imagine nor believe that we are in the flesh, in the wicked world, or under the kingdom of the devil.

One of the truths of the Reformation is that God does not lie. All of Scripture is true. Even when- and especially when – God’s Word seems to contradict our reason and logical skills. What we’re looking at is one of the most comforting sections of Scripture. We need to take it in all seriousness, to trust in it with all earnestness.

But at the same time the Bible also clearly states that we can fall from faith. The Bible does not teach the error “once converted always converted.” The Bible doesn’t teach that if we can prove that we were saved at one point in life, then we’re good, we’re safe. Perhaps functionally a lot of people live that way. They may call themselves Christian, they may have grown up in the church, may have gone to Sunday School when they were young, but have “outgrown” church, they have very little to do with God’s Word and are busy with their lives. They think, “I’m good with God. I’m going to heaven.” When in reality they’re going to hell.

Perhaps there’s also a warning here for us. The Bible makes it very clear that we can fall from faith. The Bible gives numerous examples of people who were believers but then fell away. The Bible tells us “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). The Bible describes people who believe for a while but “in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 8:13) The Bible talks about some who have “rejected… and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim 1:19). The Bible clearly tells us that we can fall from the faith and be lost eternally. It’s horridly scary to think about the deathtrap we’re in every day or to think about times when we have indeed fell away, when we’ve rejected God’s Word and knowingly and pridefully flung ourselves headlong into sin.

But the Bible also clearly teaches the truths of our verses and many others. The Bible tells us “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Cor 10:13). Jesus said, “No one can snatch them (his believers) out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6). And then words our text, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What are we to make of this?

On the one hand, God clearly says that we can fall from the faith, lose our faith, and die eternally in hell. On the other hand, the Bible also clearly states God’s promises that God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, no one shall pluck you out of the Savior’s hand, and nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

Isn’t this a contradiction? It may be a contradiction to our minds, but it’s exactly what contradictory hearts like ours need to hear. Here’s the truth: The very person who is convinced that he can fall, that he may fall, that he is in great danger of falling away throughout his earthly life, can also be perfectly sure that he will never fall away.

Our hearts have such a contradiction in them. Our hearts are still terribly wicked, even though we’re Christian. There’s a part of us that wants to think, “I’m good, don’t worry, I’m fine, I can do it on my own, I’ll never fall away, I’ll never lose my faith.” So, we need to hear the serious and earnest warnings that God gives us: We can fall!

But our hearts are also timid, scared and weak and we desperately need reassurance. When I’m scared, when I think that I’m going to fall, when I’m afraid I’m not going to make it or afraid I’ll lose my faith and be lost eternally. My extremity is God’s opportunity. When I am weak, then I am strong. For when I know that I can’t stand on my own, that I cannot persevere on my own, that I am helpless on my own, then the Lord comes to me and says no one shall pluck me from His hand, nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We face many things, trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. The word trouble is “pressure” anything that presses down on us, hardship is distress caused by pressures, sicknesses and surgeries, family problems and financial burdens, persecution – either physical or, perhaps more what we’re used to, psychological against you for believing God’s Word, danger and sword – constant threat to our bodies on the small scale- robbery or theft, and on the large scale to wars and nuclear threats. And all these threats are just like believers in the OT faced – deathtraps all day long.

But what is God’s blessed assurance for us? “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” “More than conquerors” that phrase implies a comparison. You take all the threats, all the dangers, all the deathtraps that our enemies have lodged against us on one side and weigh that against God’s love for us in Christ and we come out more than conquerors. God’s steadfast love for us demonstrated most clearly in sending Jesus to be crucified for our sins and raising him from the dead for our justification proves God’s eternal love for us and assuring us that the outcome for every believer is always and only victory.

And then 10 non-separators are listed as not being able to separate us from God’s love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, and finally, lest we think there was a loophole or lest we think something was missed, “nor anything else in all creation” will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What incredible comfort!

We might be the characters walking around with deathtraps designed by our enemies all over, but, look at the words that God, who does not lie, tells you, receive the assurance of God’s forgiving, pardoning, eternal love for you in the Sacrament this morning and be assured: NOTHING will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Given to the Lord

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7th Sunday of Easter
1 Samuel 1:21-28

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear people of God, What are you sacrificing for? We make sacrifices all the time for a greater good, don’t we? Let me explain: If you’re planning to take an expensive vacation or buy a new boat or get a new car or purchase a new home or whatever, you have to make sacrifices. You decide not to buy any and everything that you’d like, you might decide not to go out to eat so much, you might decide to not take a vacation one year so you can have a better one the next year- you make sacrifices for the greater good. Those sacrifices become the means to achieve a greater goal. It’s also why we’re celebrating what we’re celebrating this weekend. This weekend we’re honoring those men and women in our armed forces who are or were willing to sacrifice many things – even their lives – for the greater good of preserving the ideals and values that our nation holds dear, particularly our freedoms. Their own lives become the means to the end goal of preserving our nation’s freedoms.

We do this sort of thing all the time in our lives, don’t we? We make sacrifices for a greater goal. And, yet, so often for some not-so-honorable goals. We might have an end goal in life of being able to retire and be financially sound or have a lot of money, but what are we willing to sacrifice for that end goal? Our marriage? Our relationship with our children? Our health? All those things- marriage, children, health – have become the means to the end goal of money. Or, we might have a goal of being popular or well-liked by many people, but what are we willing to sacrifice for that? Our values? Our faith? Compromise and do things we know are wrong or sinful?

What we have here in our text this morning is an end goal switch in Hannah’s heart that makes all the difference. Let’s look at: Hannah’s hurt Hannah’s hope, our hurt, our hope

To understand our text we have to first understand that this is part of a larger account. You see, we’re told right away that Hannah’s husband Elkanah had two wives. Now, perhaps you’ve noticed that this comes up a number of times in the Old Testament and perhaps you’ve struggled a bit with these polygamous marriages that we see in the Bible. But if you ever come away from one of these texts and think that God is condoning polygamy, you’re not reading it. Every time that it comes up we see it bring just incredible disaster and hardship and problems to families. This is one of those times.

Hannah could not have children, Peninnah – Elkanah’s other wife – could. So, Peninnah mocks and taunts and ridicules Hannah and Hannah is devastated, she weeps, she can’t eat, she’s crying all the time. Now, why is Hannah so devastated? We have to understand the context of this time. At this time both family and society depended on women having children. First, the more children you had, the more money you had. More children meant more workers the family had in the field. The more workers, the greater prosperity you enjoyed. Secondly, the more children you had, the greater chances you could live into old age with some degree of comfort. They, of course, didn’t have social security or 401ks, so older people were cared for by their children. And lastly, your country needed a lot of children because the more children the country had the more people it had, the more people, the greater the army. If your army was larger than the enemy, it was more likely that you would win. So, women who had children were viewed as heroes, they were patriots.

So, NOT being able to have children was essentially equal to hopelessness. It meant no foreseeable future for your family, for yourself, or for your nation. And that’s what Peninnah reminded Hannah of over and over again.  To them in that culture having a family was the ultimate thing. But every culture has a value system, it does this to something, it makes something the ultimate thing so that if you don’t have it, you’re nothing, you’re worthless. Perhaps today it’s achievement, prosperity, or popularity – if you don’t have it, you’re considered less and not important.

So that was Hannah’s hurt. But what did she do? She made a resolve. Once, while the family was at Shiloh- where the tabernacle was, Hannah made a resolve, she went to the tabernacle, prayed to the Lord and made a vow that if the Lord should give her a son, she would give her son to the Lord to serve him for his whole life. He would become a Nazirite. Now, at first, it seems like she’s making some kind of a deal with God: Give me a son and I’ll give him to you. But that would still be making having a child the ultimate thing and God just a means to that end. But that’s not what Hannah did. You see, after she made this vow to the Lord, she went home, she ate, and she was no longer downcast. In other words, she had peace. If it was a bargain she was making with God it would have gone like this: prayer, pregnancy, and then peace. But it doesn’t work that way. She has peace before she gets pregnant. And she promises to give her son to the Lord. Should the Lord give her a son, she would give her son to be a non-Levitical priest, a Nazirite. This meant that her son would live in God’s house from the time he was very little – probably 3 years old. That means she wouldn’t have a son to show off to all the people, he wouldn’t be there – he’d be at the tabernacle. That means she wouldn’t have a son so that the family could prosper, the son would be doing the Lord’s work. That means she wouldn’t have a son to have some financial security because he’s gone, he’s dedicated to service in God’s house.

And so, can you picture it? They are on their way to Shiloh- Elkanah has a massive 3 year old bull that he’s leading – which would have been a huge sacrifice for a farmer, and Hannah is leading her little 3 year old boy hand in hand to give him to the Lord. Wow! How could she do that? How could she give up her son like that? Well, this is what changed in Hannah- she says, “I’m not going to rest my heart in what society says, I’m not going to rest my heart in culture or in my husband’s love or in the desire to have a child, I’m going to rest my heart in the Lord, I’m putting my hope in the Lord.” No longer is she wanting a child for her, but for the Lord. She doesn’t want a child for her sake, but for the Lord’s sake. God is no longer the means to the end of having a child, but having a child is the means to the end of glorifying the Lord. See the difference? Israel was a terrible spiritual disaster at this time- they needed a solid spiritual leader. Hannah says, “I no longer want a child for me, I want a child for the Lord, I want a child for spiritual strength of the nation through whom God is going to send the Savior into the world.” In other words, she set her sight not on the temporary, not on the seen, but on the unseen, the glory and salvation of God and His kingdom.

What about you? Do you have a hurt like Hannah? Do you have a hole in your life that you want desperately to be filled? Has God become just the means to the end of having whatever it is your heart is really desiring? Are you willing to dedicate your job, your career, your family, your prized possessions to the service of the Lord? Are we willing to say, “Lord, thank you for this job you’ve given me, the career you’ve blessed me with, may I use it for your glory?” Are we willing to say, “Lord, thank you for the family you’ve given me, may I honor and glorify you with it.” Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

But how does that happen? How do we have that eternal perspective? How can we have that willingness to sacrifice for the greater good of the Lord and His kingdom like Hannah? It doesn’t come from within us, it comes from outside of us. Hannah prayed for a son to be given for the work of the Lord. Hannah then gave that son up for the work of the Lord. The work of the Lord, however, was all working toward one goal: to bring the Savior into this world. Yes, Hannah sacrificed having her son for herself for the greater good of God’s work and His kingdom. But, that doesn’t come close the sacrifice God made on behalf of you and me. Jesus, God’s own Son, wasn’t only given to the work of the Lord, but Jesus was sacrificed- not just by living in God’s house – but really sacrificed on a cross.  In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Lord, your will not mine be done.”  Jesus kept God’s plan of salvation first and foremost- even above His own life, He did so in your place and mine for all the times we’ve selfishly made other things more important than God and His work.  And He was dealt all the blows, all the wrath, all the punishment from God Himself for all your sins and mine. Why? Because in the heart of God is a love so great, so boundless, so amazing that the greater good to God is having you and me in heaven with him forever.

Perhaps you’re feeling the hurt of some hole in your life right now or perhaps you’re tempted to be controlled by the value system of the society, culture, and world that we live in- as if money, things, relationships are the ultimate goal that you should sacrifice everything else for. But don’t focus on the seen, but the unseen. Realize what Hannah realized: In the Lord you have all the significance, worth, and love you’ll ever need. And since you have him you can sacrifice all the lesser things for the greater goal of having the Lord and doing His work and like Hannah have peace.  Amen.